Our Michigan Christmases were as magical as portrayed in the movies when I was young: snowy travel to family-filled occasions with decorations, mouthwatering flavors & aromas, and magic in the air. Each house had its specialty, plentiful & delicious cookies, cakes, savories, and dinners. Best of all, to those in the know, were the humble, hand-wrapped caramels that my “little aunties’ created. Yes, melt in your mouth and, “no, you can only have one”.
My Grandmother, as the oldest of four sisters in a very close-knit family, made sure that the family got together monthly, ostensibly to celebrate the birthdays of that month, but mostly because we loved to be together. The women watched Lawrence Welk (Oh, they’re so cute) and the men escaped for cards in the basement. We kids were allowed to play or create entertainments for a very appreciative audience (Oh, they’re so cute). Best, though, were the Christmas gatherings.
Every year as it came close to Christmas, I begged to make the caramels while my mother, an accomplished baker and crafter, scurried to create a storybook Christmas. She demurred repeatedly, until, with a twinkle in her eye, she decided that I was old enough to get my wish. Together we shopped and prepped the kitchen as she explained that at least two of my ‘little aunties” would get together and devote the entire day to creating my favorite confection. I imagined them visiting and baking while making candy together because that was what they loved to do.
Mom started with the basics of candy making and then handed me an apron and spoon because I was to have a very important part in making the caramels. She let me measure under close supervision and then put the pan on the stove, reminding me that the mixture needed to be stirred constantly. Needless to say, my arm gave out much sooner than I thought. Mom took her turn and then it was my turn again, and again….
Was it worth it? On, yes! And it is much easier to make as an adult than I remember as a child, but huge lessons were learned: Be careful what you wish – or maybe – Good things come to those who wait – or maybe – Really appreciate the all ‘little aunties’ and ‘caramels’ when you can.
I give thanks for those who share the fruits of their labors, those who take time to teach skills and life lessons, and all that makes celebrating the Christmas season SO sweet as we celebrate the birth of Christ.
2 c granulated sugar 1/2 lb butter 1 3/4 cup light Karo syrup
1 can (14.5 oz) evaporated milk 1 1/2 Tbl best vanilla 1 cup chopped nuts
Shake in can and/or blend evaporated milk to remove lumps. Place all ingredients except vanilla and nuts in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. (May use a dutch oven for quicker cooking.) Cook over high heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. (If using a candy thermometer, cook to 210 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring constantly to soft ball stage or until 244 degrees. Remove from heat, add vanilla and nut meats. Stir quickly and pour into buttered pan. When thoroughly cold, turn out and cut into squares. Wrap in squares of wax or candy paper.
~ Sue Henry
1 Thessalonious 3:9-13
Loving God, at this joyous season, help us to abound in love for one another and for all. Strengthen our hearts in holiness so that we are blameless when Christ returns. Amen.